Monday, November 19, 2007

Vietnam defends $2 billion Spratly gas project

HANOI: Vietnam said Thursday that a BP-led $2 billion natural gas field and pipeline project in the South China Sea was within the bounds of its sovereignty, after Beijing accused Hanoi of infringing on China’s territory.

China, Vietnam and Taiwan claim all of the Spratly Islands, a string of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea, possibly containing large oil and gas deposits, while Malaysia and the Philippines claim parts of them.

A spokesman for the Vietnamese government said that the division of its islands and territorial waters “into blocks for oil and gas exploration and exploitation is completely normal” and conforms with international laws.

“The cooperation project between Petrovietnam and BP of Britain has been implemented since 2000 and is within the bounds of Vietnam’s exclusive zones and continental shelf, completely under the sovereignty of Vietnam,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Le Dung, said in a statement.

The planned $2 billion gas field and pipeline project, about 370 kilometers, or 230 miles, southeast off Vung Tau on the southern coast, is adjacent to the BP-led Lan Tay-Lan Do gas fields that have been producing gas for power generation since 2002.

According to maps of the region, the Lan Tay-Lan Do gas fields are not within an ongoing joint seismic exploration effort in the Spratlys between the national oil companies of China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips and Petrovietnam are also partners in the new venture, which is pending final agreement. Neither China nor the other countries that contest the Spratlys had made any public statements about the BP project before Tuesday, when China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, was asked to comment on the pipeline venture, and about Vietnam’s plan to hold local elections on the islands.

Vietnam’s series of new actions infringing on China’s sovereignty, sovereign power and administrative rights in the Spratly Islands, goes against the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries on the maritime issue,” he told a news conference in Beijing, in response to a question from a local reporter.

A BP spokesman in London declined to comment. Vietnam has traditionally been wary of its larger Asian neighbor. In 1979, the two countries fought a short border war after Vietnam occupied it neighbor, Cambodia, and overthrew the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which was backed by Beijing.

In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a brief naval battle near one of the Spratly Island reefs, in which more than 70 Vietnamese sailors died.

Beijing and Hanoi normalized relations in 1991 and tensions have eased considerably in recent years.